Geologists have discovered a long-lost continent that’s been hiding beneath southern Europe for millions of years. Nope, it’s not Atlantis, it’s actually a Greenland-sized chunk of continental crust known as Greater Adria that’s been found lurking in the Mediterranean.
“Forget Atlantis. Without realizing it, vast numbers of tourists spend their holiday each year on the lost continent of Greater Adria,” said lead researcher Douwe van Hinsbergen in a statement.
It was discovered by a team of researchers from Utrecht University in the Netherlands who embarked on a mission to document the messy geology of the Mediterranean, publishing their findings in the journal Gondwana Research.
All of Earth's modern-day continents were once joined together in a supercontinent known as Pangea until it began to break apart about 175 million to 200 million years ago to form Gondwana (which eventually broke into Africa, South America, Antarctica, India, and Australasia) and Laurasia (Eurasia and North America).
Then, around 140 million ago, Greater Adria separated from North Africa and plunged into the mantle under southern Europe at a speed of centimeters per year. As the continent slid under Europe, the top layers of sedimentary rock “scraped off” and formed the mountain belts of the Apennines, parts of the Alps, the Balkans, Greece, and Turkey.
While most of the continent is underwater, we can still see the legacy of the ancient continent in parts of the Mediterranean today.
"Most mountain chains that we investigated originated from a single continent that separated from North Africa more than 200 million years ago," van Hinsbergen said. "The only remaining part of this continent is a strip that runs from Turin via the Adriatic Sea to the heel of the boot that forms Italy."
The discovery of Greater Adria is based on a decade of work by the team. After studying the age and magnetic properties of rocks around the region, they then created models to track the movements of Earth's tectonic plates.
Studying the tectonics of the Mediterranean is no easy task. First of all, it’s spread across dozens of different countries, each with their own geological surveys and deep-rooted ideas of their geological past. Secondly, as you can tell from its rugged landscapes, this is a land that’s fiendishly complicated, geologically speaking.
“It is quite simply a geological mess: everything is curved, broken, and stacked. Compared to this, the Himalayas, for example, represent a rather simple system,” explained van Hinsbergen. “There you can follow several large fault lines across a distance of more than 2,000 kilometers.”
This isn't the first lost continent we've discovered. In 2017, researchers confirmed the new seventh continent of Zealandia, most of which lies underwater in the Southern Hemisphere. Just last year, researchers used gravity-mapping satellites to detect the remnants of long-lost continents beneath the ice sheets of Antarctica. Scientists even think there's a possibility that Earth will once again form a supercontinent in 50 to 200 million years. It even has a name: Amasia.